US President Barack Obama has invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for an official visit, a move seen in Washington as mark of support for his policies, particularly fighting “terrorists” in tribal zones on behalf of the US and efforts to improve ties with neighbors including India with pipeline diplomacy.
This is notwithstanding the seemingly illusionary standoff and crossfire between them in order to keep the Kashmiris, seeking sovereignty back, at a distance.
Obama has invited Sharif for a trip towards end of October obviously to offset the impact of his recent visit to Russia to attend SCO summit and his meeting with his Indian counterpart Modi. “It will be an important visit. It shows that the US supports policies of the Sharif’s government to create peace in the region by defeating militants and strengthening economy,” an official said on condition of anonymity. The formal invitation is expected to be issued in coming weeks. The October trip is part of bilateral arrangement and will be separate from the UN session visit.
Obama’s invite comes at crucial time when Pakistan has almost cleared North Waziristan tribal region of al Qaeda linked militants for the pipeline construction to connect India and helped kick-start a peace process between Afghan government and Taliban — both key demands of the US.
Americans now play into Indian designs for South Asia and Obama possibly signals support for occupation of Jammu Kashmir by both India and Pakistan. The invite is meant to alienate Kashmiris, who are deeply worried about emerging rapprochement move between India and Pakistan with the pipeline diplomacy, from Pakistan.
The US visit will also help boost Sharif’s regional peace policy aiming to build peaceful ties with all neighbors. His recent pipeline policy towards India has been under scanner back home due to reservation by the military, which controls the security and foreign policy of the country, though it also supports pipeline policy giving Islamabad some more money as service charges from India.
The US has a deep interest in normalization of ties between India and Pakistan and has been pushing the two sides for better ties through terror prone pipeline links. It is also believed that the US played a role in the recent meeting between the prime ministers of the two sides in Russia, where they agreed for meetings between their top officials.
Despite the tension, Sharif persisted with his peace initiative and sent traditional gift of mangoes to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, which drew immense criticism from media, pro-military experts and parties. After eating Pakistan’s sweet mangoes, India asks Pakistan to “do more” on the terror matter.
Pakistan test fired a Shaheen III ballistic missile with a range up to 1,700 miles—which would allow Pakistan to hit any location in India—and, the following month, it test fired the Ghauri Ballistic Missile with a range of 807 miles; both are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Since the Afghan-Soviet war (1979-1989), Pakistan has served as a key US ally in Central Asia—providing a base for military operations, participating in the counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and mediating relations between the United States and China. This bilateral relationship expanded in 2001 under President Bush, who increased humanitarian and military aid from $187.7 million in 2001 to $2 billion the year after 9/11—totally $20 billion in the subsequent decade. In 2009, Congress passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act that granted $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years. However, recent Pakistani political and military decisions reveal shifting allegiances, calling into question the strength of US-Pakistan relations. The once strong US-Pakistan relationship may be set to expire now unless renewed by the US with more aid packages.
It seems the US may not need Pakistan’s ports and roads as before to sustain its Afghanistan operations, but the engagement between the two nations will continue. The relationship took a heavy blow following the US raid in Abbottabad to ostensibly kill Osama bin Laden (now it is becoming clear the US story is bogus), but efforts have been made over the past year to rebuild military ties.
PM Sharif, after taking over the post last year, has overseen a major military operation against Islamists in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a long-pending US demand. Islamabad is using this as a way to extract a commitment from the US regarding enhanced engagement and continuation of military aid to Pakistan post-2014. And the strategy is working.
It appears Pakistan has sustained itself exclusively on US money. The Pakistani government is trying to appease US for enhanced aid. It created National Action Plan (NAP) in December 2014 to crack down on terrorism. In January 2015, Pakistan began a process of deepening military ties with Afghanistan to strengthen border security. Also in line with US regional interests, Pakistan pursued friendlier relations with India. As a result of Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, the US State Department approved Pakistan’s request for nearly $1 billion in military equipment. However, the US has rejected Pakistan’s demand for another $1 billion, as Pakistan is not “ doing enough” and renewed crack down on terrorism is facing barriers to implementation.
As per a Congressional Research Service reports, Pakistan has received close to $28.4bn (£12bn) in military and non-military aid from the US post 9/11. Of that, $11bn came from the CSF. Experts say convincing Congress to continue the CSF will be a tough task for Sharif. Many of the senators who control the purse strings have put conditions on the release of funds to Pakistan. Pakistan also gets close to $300m worth of military aid per year from the US to buy conventional weapons.
Washington is unhappy that the Pakistani initiatives supportive of US interests are greatly overshadowed by strengthening Pakistan-China and Pakistan-Russia relations, threatening the stability of a bilateral relationship founded primarily on Pakistan’s reliance upon the US resources. Most recently, on April 16, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced plans to embark on a $46 billion infrastructure spending plan in Pakistan known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and, in early April, Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif approved an approximately $5 billion deal with China to purchase eight submarines with the potential to attach nuclear warheads.
The US can do absolutely nothing as interests of China and Russia are growing closer to Pakistan. While only 16 percent of Pakistanis view America’s influence as “mostly positive,” 75 percent and 25 percent view China and Russia as such, respectively.
The US calculates Pakistan can help advancing its foreign policy and national security goals in South Asia. As such, to keep Pakistan on board, the US keeps accusing Pakistan as its key policy, of harboring militants who wage war against Afghanistan and India.
There still remains a huge trust deficit as Islamabad is not at all sure what exactly would be US future strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Experts say it will need some real serious and honest effort to inject vitality in the relationship.